Vallarta Living | May 2009
|Mexico: One Journalistís View|
Linda Ellerbee - PVNN
Sometimes Iíve been called a maverick because I donít always agree with my colleagues, but then, only dead fish swim with the stream all the time. The stream here is Mexico.
You would have to be living on another planet to avoid hearing how dangerous Mexico has become, and, yes, itís true drug wars have escalated violence in Mexico, causing collateral damage, a phrase I hate. Collateral damage is a cheap way of saying that innocent people, some of them tourists, have been robbed, hurt or killed.
But thatís not the whole story. Neither is this. This is my story.
Iím a journalist who lives in New York City, but has spent considerable time in Mexico, specifically Puerto Vallarta, for the last four years. Iím in Vallarta now. And despite what Iím getting from the U.S. media, the 24-hour news networks in particular, I feel as safe here as I do at home in New York, possibly safer.
I walk the streets of my Vallarta neighborhood alone day or night. And I donít live in a gated community, or any other All-Gringo neighborhood. I live in Mexico. Among Mexicans. I go where I want (which does not happen to include bars where prostitution and drugs are the basic products), and take no more precautions than I would at home in New York; which is to say I donít wave money around, I donít act the Ugly American, I do keep my eyes open, Iím aware of my surroundings, and I try not to behave like a fool.
Iíve not always been successful at that last one. One evening a friend left the house I was renting in Vallarta at that time, and, unbeknownst to me, did not slam the automatically-locking door on her way out. Sure enough, less than an hour later a stranger did come into my house. A burglar? Robber? Kidnapper? Killer? Drug lord?
No, it was a local police officer, the "beat cop" for our neighborhood, who, on seeing my unlatched door, entered to make sure everything (including me) was okay. He insisted on walking with me around the house, opening closets, looking behind doors and, yes, even under beds, to be certain no one else had wandered in, and that nothing was missing. He was polite, smart and kind, but before he left, he lectured me on having not checked to see that my friend had locked the door behind her. In other words, he told me to use my common sense.
Do bad things happen here? Of course they do. Bad things happen everywhere, but the murder rate here is much lower than, say, New Orleans, and if there are bars on many of the ground floor windows of houses here, well, the same is true where I live, in Greenwich Village, which is considered a swell neighborhood ó house prices start at about $4 million (including the bars on the ground floor windows.)
There are good reasons thousands of people from the United States are moving to Mexico every month, and itís not just the lower cost of living, a hefty tax break and less snow to shovel. Mexico is a beautiful country, a special place.
The climate varies, but is plentifully mild, the culture is ancient and revered, the young are loved unconditionally, the old are respected, and I have yet to hear anyone mention Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, or Madonnaís attempt to adopt a second African child, even though, with such a late start, she cannot possibly begin to keep up with Angelina Jolie.
And then there are the people. Generalization is risky, butó in general ó Mexicans are warm, friendly, generous and welcoming. If you smile at them, they smile back. If you greet a passing stranger on the street, they greet you back. If you try to speak even a little Spanish, they tend to treat you as though you were fluent. Or at least not an idiot.
I have had taxi drivers track me down after leaving my wallet or cell phone in their cab. I have had someone run out of a store to catch me because I have overpaid by twenty cents. I have been introduced to and come to love a people who celebrate a day dedicated to the dead as a recognition of the cycles of birth and death and birth ó and the 15th birthday of a girl, an important rite in becoming a woman ó with the same joy.
Too much of the noise youíre hearing about how dangerous it is to come to Mexico is just that ó noise. But the media love noise, and too many journalists currently making it donít live here. Some have never even been here. They just like to be photographed at night, standing near a spotlighted border crossing, pointing across the line to some imaginary country from hell. It looks good on TV.
Another thing. The U.S. media tend to lump all of Mexico into one big bad bowl. Talking about drug violence in Mexico without naming a state or city where this is taking place is rather like looking at the horror of Katrina and saying, "Damn. Did you know the U.S. is under water?" or reporting on the shootings at Columbine or the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City by saying that kids all over the U.S. are shooting their classmates and all the grownups are blowing up buildings. The recent rise in violence in Mexico has mostly occurred in a few states, and especially along the border. It is real, but it does not describe an entire country.
It would be nice if we could put whatís going on in Mexico in perspective, geographically and emotionally. It would be nice if we could remember that, as has been noted more than once, these drug wars wouldnít be going on if people in the United States didnít want the drugs, or if other people in the United States werenít selling Mexican drug lords the guns.
Most of all, it would be nice if more people in the United States actually came to this part of America (Mexico is also America, you will recall) to see for themselves what a fine place Mexico really is, and how good a vacation (or a life) here can be.
So come on down and get to know your southern neighbors. I think youíll like it here. Especially the people.
| R E A D E R S ' C O M M E N T S |
I have been working here in Toluca, Edo Mex, Mexico for the past six years now and my work brings me all over Mexico, big cities and small, and many many experiences to tell. A friend sent me this article on One Journalist's View, and I was completely overwhelmed by the precise perception of the reality of the situation in Mexico, related in the best choice of words... long story short: Linda Ellerbee said exactly what I have been trying to say to many apprehensive American customers, whom I have sent a copy of this magnificent piece of work. Thank you Linda Ellerbee!
I'm glad to read what is happening around us, but as you said Mexico is not a death trap - it is a colourful and nice place to visit and live! I'm a proud Mexican and your words are fresh air for our contaminated country.
- Josť Mendoza Ibarra
Thank you for sharing this! Living in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico, now for seven years, we are very happy and feel safer here than almost anywhere in the USA. We are tired of all of the bad publicity about Mexico! I know several women, single, retired living here that would not be anywhere else. My husband and I have traveled all over Mexico since the early 1980's. This is a beautiful country and the people are good, decent, honest human beings. It is too bad that the media attention is causing a lot of poor people to become even poorer thanks to the affects on the economy. Linda Ellerbee should be honored and congratulated for speaking up!
- Linda Shiflett, San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico
I am publisher of an Association newsletter and editor of an E-Magazine in Manzanillo. Recently, (I read) Linda Ellerbeeís great article "Mexico: One Journalistís View" (on BanderasNews.com.) This is an extremely well written and truthful account of life in Mexico... Those of us living here have only recently been included in the recent onslaught of "unrest" and are horrified by the amount of people seriously considering not returning to Mexico this year. As one of your readers commented, it is a sad state of affairs when murder and mayhem is exploited to sell information rather than tell of the good things that surround us.
- Freda Rumford, Manzanillo
I thought your article, "One Journalist's View of Mexico," was well written, well researched, and spoke to people from personal experience... Manzanillo is equally suffering from all the bad press, though we have never in our history ever had a tourist injured by "collateral damage," as you so aptly put it. I've lived full time in Mexico for 23 years (the first 3 in Puerto Vallarta), and, for the average tourist or person who lives here, the violence so often talked about just doesn't exist. I, too, live in a Mexican neighborhood; not in a "gringo" community.
- Susan Dearing, Manzanillo
Thank you very much for your note about Mexico. I am a Mexican housewife and I live in Queretaro, where my life is quiet and peaceful. It is great to hear a foreigner talking about my country so kindly because, yes we have problems like every other country but, we the good and working people like to live in peace as the rest of the others, and we are a majority. Unfortunately, we have a government that is not helping due to corruption, but thank God there are people like you who tell another part of the story. Please, I'd be honored if you visit Queretaro some day and Mi casa es tu casa as we say here in Mexico. Thank you very much again for such beautiful words about my country, we need them.
- Best regards, Mary Toriello, Queretaro
Thank you for this positive and refreshing article. I have always admired Linda Ellerbee and her style of journalism. My husband and I have been coming to Puerto Vallarta for the past ten years and never as now have seen in the U.S. news so much negative publicity about Mexico. I guess bad news sell more newspapers. I want to hear more about the good in people and that good people do. It's time to emphasize all the good there is in this "Paradise." Thanks Linda.
- Carmen Pugliese
Reading this article reminds me of why I have been a fan of Linda's journalism over the years. She always speaks the truth with a wonderful sense of wit. I saw her at Costco one day and wanted to tell her just how important her programs and writings had been to me. I realized at that moment that she was one of the first journalists to open up my mind to diversity and critical thinking. Having grown up in a restrictive, religious environment, my mind truly needed to be opened. It's great to have such a talented and insightful journalist in our community here.
- Sincerely, Deborah, Bucerias
Many times, I wish I was a writer and could express myself better. You have eloquently put into words all of my feelings and emotions concerning our beloved Puerto Vallarta.
I have been to this lovely town 21 times and have experienced wonderful hospitality and a sense of belonging. Local residents are smiling and friendly and always helpful. Safety has never been a concern for my wife or myself. We walk all over town and never feel unsafe. Of course, we use common sense and do not wear flashy jewelry or carry large sums of cash.
I feel safer in Vallarta than I do walking in downtown Chicago. After traveling over a large portion of the USA and Europe, I can tell you that Puerto Vallarta is my choice as the friendliest city in North America and my own paradise on earth.
- Ed Bushman, Dixon, IL
Many thanks for this article. I have also retired to Mexico, but unlike the other people who responded to this article, I do not live in a gringo enclave like San Miguel or Lake Chapala (or even Puerto Vallarta.) I live in PŠtzcuaro, MichoacŠn, in a completely Mexican neighborhood (the only gated community here is the jail!)
I can second Ellerbee's comments entirely, with one small exception: I have found that the honesty and personal integrity of many Mexicans is not up to US standards, so one has to be careful when contracting for services and some goods. (Click HERE to continue...)
- David Yett
We've just posted Linda Ellerbee's article on our website. Please thank her for writing it. This is how all of us residents here in San Carlos (Sonora) feel. We are disgusted by the media over blowing everything. San Carlos is near Guaymas, a wonderful community of US people and Canadian snowbirds. We love the Mexican people and feel so much safer here than (for me) in Los Angeles! We have been coming here since 1973, and thank God every day that we live in this paradise.
- Maggy Murray, San Carlos Sonora
I have long been a longtime fan of Linda Ellerbee's but never more so than when I read this article! Ms. Ellerbee has covered it all - as only she can do it.
As part of a very large contingent of retired seniors living full time in the Lake Chapala, we enjoy every day. We drive over to Vallarta frequently to enjoy the sea breezes and in both places we are treated royally by local residents and business people. Friends all over the world keep asking if we are OK - the answer is: "We are not 'OK' - we are living in Paradise and loving it!"
Thank you for publishing this article - I will be forwarding copies to friends and family all over the world.
- Nora D., Lake Chapala
Many thanks for writing and getting this article into print. I recently retired and bought a house in San Miguel de Allende. My plan is to live here for 6-7 months of the year and back in Washington, DC for the remaining months. I am so pleased to see the sentiments expressed by Linda Ellerbee in her piece.
I can't tell you how many times my mother calls me here to see if I'm okay. All of her fears are based on the hyped-up news accounts of the Drug Wars here. I'm also glad to learn that Ellerbee has also fallen in love with Mexico and her people.
I've always been a big fan of hers and her love of Mexico just increases my admiration. If you get a chance to pass this on, you might mention to her that our worlds briefly merged back in 1977, when she was with the Washington bureau of NBC News.
My cousin, Sean Daly, was an intern there during her tenure. He, and my brother, Kevin Quinn, had some social interactions with her at the time. She also covered the takeover of the 'district building' by the Hanafi Muslims in March of 1977. I worked for council member John Wilson and was a hostage.
Carol Schmidt, who has a blog here in San Miguel, picked up this piece and posted it. Poco a poco, the true story of Mexico and her people will begin to be told, countering the misdirected hype.
Again, many thanks,
- Brigid Quinn
Thank you for writing this article! Those of us who live here full time are sick to death of the hoopla being made up north about Mexico being so "unsafe." I've emailed it to my relatives coming down soon, asking questions about the 'safety' of living here. Bravo!!
- Laurie Ailworth